Year of the Spectre - Episode II:
"Summer Twilight"
Page 6



        Dick cocked his Glock pistol and aimed it right between Binder's eyes as the vampire put his hands over his head to shield himself when he felt a powerful grip on his shoulder spin him around. Staring at him from the shadow of a fedora brim were two dark but clearly glowing lavender eyes and a face of fury.

        "I SAID STAY YOUR HAND," ordered GAVAL, his rage consuming him as the corrupted Rush took hold of his senses. Grimmacing in agony he belt over slightly, the blood from his lip dripping off his chin as he tried to shake off the pain, even stronger now than it had been last time.

        "Bloymy..." whispered Dick as he stared into the fury of GAVAL's face. Power resonated from his eyes in a rick and dark lavender illumination that GAVAL might have observed was just a touch darker than it had been last time he Rushed in Tampico's. The consuming light-energy coming from GAVAL's eyes seemed to somehow overpower even Dick's bright golden glow, a Rush activated not by will but by the dark presence of a young vampire.

        "You're LEAVING right NOW," ordered the Cajun through gnashing teeth. The pain was subsiding now and he stood up straight with a steel grip on Dick's shoulder that any normal man might have been caused a broken collar bone.

        "You....you're Rushed.... but how?" asked the startled Chinmeysweep. He tried to back away from GAVAL's grip but the Cajun was as unyielding as a stone pillar. "That's impossible..." Dick slowly brought his pistol to bear on GAVAL's face.

        "LEAVING. NOW." GAVAL's growl was almost animal-like and it was obvious he was exerting serious restraint.

        "You're eyes...they used to glow blue....what have you done?" Dick pulled away from GAVAL with his own enhanced strength, but instead of breaking free of GAVAL's grip his jacket tore at the sleeve and he pulled free.

        GAVAL finally blinked and looked down at the sleeve, the sleeve of a comrade he had once fought alongside on a field of battle where death had surrounded the lucky. A thought had flickered into his head as Dick pulled away. One he didn't dare entertain a second time. Had he really considered, even for a nanosecond, that horrible thought?
He can't leave here. NO! There it was again. What was he thinking?! He can't be allowed to tell them. WHAT?! He shook his head as Dick stepped away pointing his pistol at the enraged Cajun. There must have been something about the Cajun's face that scared the Brit for a second, but he just as slowly put the pistol back into his belt and backed away.

         "This is way bigger than I thought, Cajun. You're in it deep. Into something I hadn't even considered."

        GAVAL shuddered as he realized he had just given up his biggest secret. Not even Rachel knew about the Rush he had acquired from Nighteye. Even this perfect spy sent by the ASG didn't know what GAVAL was capable of and he had simply lost control and gave it away. Clearly he had a lot more training to do before he could master these ill-obtained powers.

        Dick, trying to straighten what was left of his old overcoat, stepped towards the door, not saying a word. He felt threatened. His briefing mentioned nothing of this sort here. He had no idea how to deal with this new GAVAL situation or even what might have given GAVAL his Rush back, but one thing was frighteningly clear. GAVAL was not Rushed in the presence of the Vampire, but he DID Rush when he got angry at a fellow Slayer. Dick felt more than threatened.

        GAVAL reached out for his friend with glowing eyes blinking occasionally. The effect was eerie and unsettling. He tried to make his voice smoother and less intimidating but the growl was still perceptible.
"Dick, I'm sorry. Let's just sit down and talk...I know this looks bad."

        Binder leaned back against the wall as though he were trying to pass through it, breathing heavily and ready to panick.

        "I'm leaving, but we'll be back, Gav. One way or another the truth will be known. Until then, you'd better just think about what it is you're doing here. You'd better go back to the beginning and figure out where you took a wrong turn and fix this, because oy'm not responsible for what the ASG will do when they find out, and oy'm not gonna sugar coat this report either." He turned without a goodbye.

        "Wait!"

        Dick didn't wait. With three bounces on piled up old equipment he was out through an opened window high in the warehouse and had joined the evening breeze.

        GAVAL fell to his knees and looked up at the Vampire. Fear slowly took the ex-Slayer and his Rush dissipated as quickly as it had consumed him. "We haven't got much time now. They'll be back. And in greater numbers." Binder made no effort to help the Cajun up as he had no idea who to trust at this point. His life was so disheveled that he could only stare at this new acquaintance who had both captured him and taken care of him. Silence seemed to be the best response for the vampire.
GAVAL's mind reeled at what had just happened. He was ready to tear a Slayer to pieces just like he almost did to Lothos. He had actually considered killing a Slayer to protect his secret. This Rush was becoming something much more than an ends to killing Plague-Sever. It was becoming a complete and utter curse and the biggest mistake of his life. God, what have I done? Please get me through this. God pounds his nails. Will I be the next nail?

        Above them, looking through an air duct, were two pairs of dark red figures, with horns and claws lightly scratching against the aluminum roof of the warehouse.
They smiled at each other, then stealthily scurried off to see what further damage they could cause.

**********

        Three and a half minutes after crossing the bridge over the River Yenisey and into the dark territory of the Shadowlands, the Rush struck Nabob. It was to be the longest-lived one that he had ever experienced in his life.

        "The wickedness on these desolate plains is nigh-overwhelming," said Torvan through gritted teeth. Both of the Rogues had experienced the Rush as well, that painful throbbing that enunciated the onset of their Divine strength. "I see no demon-spawn near us, and yet their essence is…"

        "Omnipresent," finished Kali from the back seat beside Torvan. "Absolutely omnipresent."

        "Welcome to Hell on Earth," Nabob murmured.

Their driver was an unshaven middle-aged Russian corporal who didn't speak much unless spoken to. Nabob assumed that he had been into this realm before. He simply drove, expression an unreadable dread, keeping pace with the other three four-man land rovers in the scouting convoy.

They would not be following any roads. Any concrete or cement that had been laid down here had either been removed or simply wiped out by the supernatural expansion of the Shadowlands. Reports from previous Russian scouting patrols had claimed that entire settlements that the demons conquered had simply vanished without a trace. That was perhaps the worst part; endlessly speculating as to the fate of those who had had the misfortune to be in them. Of course, roads still existed in some form and in some places, so that the demons could move their troops around with greater ease. But the convoy wouldn't be going anywhere near those.

        "Where exactly are we headed?" Torvan asked from the back seat.

        "North," their driver said in bland Russian. "Following the Yeniseyskiy Kryazh – the Yeniseyskiy mountain range."

        "We shall find this Darkskull artifact there?" Kali whispered to Nabob.

        The Chimneysweep leaned back over the seat to speak to her, the noise from the open-roof land rover obscuring most of his words to the casual listener. "It was buried in the heart of a cave – a temple of some kind, I guess it was – at a bend in the Yenisey River."

        "You are so certain."

"Well, the Slayer who made out the report didn't see it for very long, but the way I figure it, he didn't stick around long enough to get killed. If the demons didn't kill him, then it's a good bet that they didn't see him there to begin with. Unless they've gotten clever and moved it, that's where it should be."

        The land rover barged across the broken wastelands, the fear that its passengers felt turning the passing minutes into frightful hours. Hollow screeches echoed across the lowlands as they began their long run at the foot of the Yeniseyskiy mountain range, denoting a flock of mindless, predatory imps circling carrion at the height of the dulled peaks.

        "Do you think those are dangerous?" Kali whispered, staring up at the ravenous imps several hundred feet above.

        "In this land, princess, you can be certain of it," Torvan snarled. The twin bladed gauntlets that he wore made a maddening tzik sound when he touched the blades of them together. "Whether or not they will notice us is the more prudent question."

        Every aspect of the deranged land had been warped by the dark powers of the Burning Hells. Whatever natural vegetation had once grown here in the summer months had long since been usurped and destroyed by flora and fauna of a darker variety. Hedges grew with branches covered in blade-like thorns that would ward off all but the most masochistic of predators. Decrepit tumbleweeds that floated a good foot off of the ground and were likewise covered in thorns roamed the land blindly, sewing the seeds for future generations. Most terrifying of all were the giant, mutated Venus Flytraps, easily capable of swallowing a man – or even a land rover – in a single mouthful. The convoy wisely gave those last ones a particularly wide berth.

        "Look over there," the Chimneysweep said, beckoning to his left. "Herd animals. They've even got demonic livestock out here..."

        "Uh…Nabob?"

        "Mm-hmm?"

        "Those imps have not gone away yet."

        Nabob cast a glance over his shoulder and upwards. Indeed, the predatory imps – primitive winged demons – were still circling in the sky. This time it was clear that they weren't picking at carrion on a mountainside, however. It was obvious after a few moments that they were following the convoy.

        "They are starting to swoop low…" Torvan called out as a warning.

        "Then get that machine gun ready!" the driver barked. "Must I do everything to keep you safe?"

        The fighter snarled back at him. "I cannot aim it properly with your reckless driving!"

        "You want me to stop then, ja?"

        "Stop this bickering!" Kali ordered, standing up in the back of the topless land rover and peering back at the trailing demons. "I'll see if I cannot scare them away."

        The Rogue Slayer sorceress closed her eyes, and immediately the air in the land rover became almost greasy with the feel of static electricity mounting. Then, as the magic reached a climax, a small, shimmering bolt of energy shot upwards into the air from her outstretched arm.

        "What the hell…?" screeched the driver.

        When it reached approximately the altitude that the imps were circling at – less than a hundred feet now – the magical streak disappeared for an instant…

        …And then the entire sky flared with a crippling electrical discharge. The siren shrieks of the imps turned into frightened wails as they dove to avoid the crackling blue streaks of lightning that emanated from the blast point. Nabob dared a glance over his shoulder. Whether the spell had been real or illusory, it seemed to have had the desired effect. The flock of imps scattered in fear, fleeing in all directions at once.

        "What did you just do?" the driver was yelling, not keeping his eyes on the road. "What kind of demon are you?"

        Wait a minute… His eyes narrowed. Are they really fleeing?

        
"WATCH OUT!"

        I guess not.

        
The 'scattering' flock of imps turned, as though controlled by one mind, and dove upon the convoy, talons and fangs outstretched and ready to snare their prey. It occurred to Nabob in that moment that what might scare away natural predators in any other part of the world was likely to only make them extremely angry here in this blasphemous territory. He heard shouting as Torvan scrambled to get at the rear-mounted machine gun as Kali tried to cast another spell to ward them off. Too late, though.

        The land rover screamed in mechanical protest as an imp rammed into it, latching onto the metal exterior with its claws as though cutting through Play-doh. The driver swerved the steering wheel violently, trying desperately to throw the demon off and cause the others to over-shoot their target. The Russian man was out of luck, though. An imp screamed past him, cutting a wide gash in Nabob's arm as it latched onto the driver's shoulders with its claws and headed skywards. The man was pulled out of the land rover, the frayed seat belt that held him in place snapping effortlessly. His screams redoubled as the imp carried him high, off to some place where it could settle down comfortably to consume its kill.

        The land rover now had no driver.

        Nabob ignored the pain from the cut on his arm as he dove into the driver's seat, grabbing the wheel and only narrowly preventing the land rover from careening out of control. The Rush was still with him, even stronger now with the presence of these demons, and he could feel the wound already healing. Behind him there was a click, then the .50 caliber machine gun opened fire under Torvan's direction, spurring more shrieks of pain from the diving imps. As Nabob brought the rover under control, he could see the other three vehicles of the convoy bunching together, tightening their gunfire and cooperating to gun down any imp foolish enough to approach them.

        The demons were smart enough to realize which was the tougher target, and began diving on the Slayers' land rover, separated from the others as it was.

        Oh shit…

        Another imp rammed the land rover, this time catching it on the left side. Rather than try to latch on, though, it used its momentum to simply slam into the vehicle as hard as it could, bouncing off of the armored side, slightly dazed. The demons weighed more than one would have guessed, however, and for an instant the land rover was up on two wheels before slamming back down to the barren ground at fifty miles an hour.

        A few seconds later another imp tried the same tactic, smashing into the speeding rover. Then another, and another…

        "They're trying to flip us!" Nabob shouted. "Everyone hold on!"

        He swerved the land rover violently, nearly flipping the speeding vehicle on his own and launching it off of a small barren hump in the road. One of the imps misjudged its trajectory and slammed into the ground a meter in front of the land rover. A few seconds later it was left far behind, its bat-like wings torn and twisted at unnatural angles and its back snapped beneath the weight of several tons of Russian military machinery. Its disenchanted shriek echoed throughout the valley – a rather unwise course of action for it, because several of its brethren took notice. Breaking off from their attack on the land rover, the demons descended upon their wounded comrade, which disappeared beneath their bladed talons amidst almost human-like screams.

        Not all of the imps were as eager to give up on their resourceful prey, however. Another one slammed into the land rover at full speed, taking the vehicle again up on two wheels and coming dangerously close to tipping it over in the sandy wastes.

        Nabob heard Torvan bellow a war cry as he punched down on the machine gun, and a sound distinctly like tearing paper filled the air as the automatic weapon blazed. Demon blood splattered the windshield as one by one the remaining fliers were cut down by a stream of bullets.

        "Don't burn too much ammo!" the Chimneysweep tried to shout over the racket made by the gun, but to no avail. The Rogue kept on firing, seemingly mesmerized by the feel of hot lead at his disposal. Finally, the last determined imp dove in, and was reduced to an unrecognizable smear of gore as a dozen rounds of armor-piercing ammunition lodged in its face. The aerial demon hit the ground hard, rolling several times in the dusty wake of the land rover and then not bothering to move again.

        Leaning back over the seat, Nabob glared at Torvan. "Ever heard the phrase everything in moderation?" he demanded.

        The big Rogue scowled down at him. "I did not see you trying to ward the beasts."

        "That's because I was driving the car, dumbass! Just how many rounds did you end up blowing off? And more importantly, how many do we have left?"

        "Two hundred," Kali said, having counted the short chain of remaining studs. There was now a large pile of spent shells in the back seat of the land rover as well, and the scent of gunpowder was almost overwhelming. "We have two hundred rounds left on the machine gun. He fired over twice that."

        Nabob groaned inwardly. Why the hell did I let these people come along? Their idea of a stealthy infiltration is knocking off all our ammunition at the first pack of demons that sets eyes on us. "Okay, no more using that thing unless it's in an emergency, you got that, Rambo?"

        "This entire realm is one huge emergency."

        "…Granted. All right, no more using that thing unless I say so. That suit you better?"

        "No."

        "Deal with it." The arid landscape stretched out before him angrily. "Hey, it looks like our friends have decided to come back for us."

        Sure enough, the other three land rovers in the convoy were rumbling towards them, creating a cloud of colorless dust behind them. The command vehicle in which Captain Tyurin rode pulled up directly beside the Slayers, the still-smoking barrel of an AK-47 leaning on his leg.

        "Where is Kaspin?" he demanded, indicating the assigned driver.

        "They got him," Nabob replied sourly. "They just about got all of us. Thanks so much for helping us out."

        Tyurin swore savagely under his breath. When he looked back up at Nabob, the Slayer found himself on the receiving end of a particularly savage glare. "He was a good man. Better than you." He ran a finger up the hot barrel of his automatic rifle. "Stay close to us in the future, little one. This land is unforgiving to those who linger." The captain nodded to his driver, and the land rover pulled away, quickly followed by the other two.

        Scowling, Nabob stomped on the gas pedal to catch up.

        "I do not trust that man," Torvan muttered.

        "He's a survivor," Nabob said. "Simple as that. He doesn't need us, so he thinks that we're below him."

        "So…what now?" Kali asked.

        "We keep on going," he replied, then added silently, and hope that our commotion wasn't noticed by anything bigger.

**********

        The Slayers, however, did not realize that they had been noticed long before they had even entered the Shadowlands, and had been followed ever since. Not followed by cumbersome physical forms, of course; that was far too noticeable a ploy that might unduly alert the prey as to the predator's intentions. No, they were being followed in a way that they could not detect – through the dark magic of the land that surrounded them.

        The scrying pool was located in a vast wardroom in the heart of Shadowkeep, the personal fortress of Lord Nighteye and the unholy capital of the Shadowlands. The pool was fairly shallow and filled with a glossy metallic fluid that shimmered in the uneven light, its noiseless image carefully tracing the land rover across the wastes. The ambiance of perpetual misery and chaos that radiated from the Shadowkeep citadel served as a suitable background to the visage. Foolish, uninspired hope in the midst of a land where hope was not only dead, but had summarily executed.

It was almost poetic.

        "How brave of these little Slayers. Venturing into the belly of the Beast." Nighteye leaned forward on his obsidian throne, folding his hands in front of his face. "How very like them."

        He was not alone in the room. Another figure was there with him, obscured beneath the flickering pool shadows, brooding in the perpetual darkness of the citadel's interior.

        
"They risk much indeed."

        
"More than they should." Nighteye considered this ponderously. "So far the puppets have played our game remarkably well, wouldn't you say?"

        
"It is simply a matter of laying the appropriate bait. Human nature will do the rest." The dark figure began to stride around the scrying pool, the shadows revolving like phantoms across his ornate breastplate. "All of the cards, so to speak, are beginning to line up. Soon the key players will be brought together. I assume that all is in readiness."

        
"You would do better to ask yourself that," the Sith Lord replied. "How come the preparations for our…experiment?"

        
"We are but days away now. First I must consult necromantic texts here in the Shadowkeep."

        
"Excellent…" Nighteye steepled his fingers. "Now, we must be careful not to allow the intruders to bear witness to the testing."

        
"It would be unfortunate if they did. They play too large a role." The dark figure considered this for a moment. "Perhaps I shall handle this personally."

        
Nighteye lifted a slim eyebrow. "You? At this point? Is that wise?"

        
"My hand must be revealed at some point to achieve the maximum emotional effect from our players." The Sith Lord could sense a thin smile, even if he could not see it. "Now that he has come to us, the moment is ripe."

        "He'll try to kill you."

        
"At first, yes. Eventually his sentiment will be drowned by a desire to protect his comrades."

        "So very predictable, aren't they? Very well, go to meet them. Return as soon as you are certain that they will not be present when we launch our offensive. If our goal is to be reached, the testing must be concealed from the Slayers. For now."

        
"Of course."

        
The shadow figure turned sharply and strode away from the scrying pool, the heavy armor he wore sending a reverberating echo through the musky hallways of Shadowkeep. Nighteye leaned back, watching him go, then gazing back down into the scrying pool. The Slayers' vehicle continued to bounce its way across the glorious wastes of the Shadowlands, blissfully unaware that they were being watched from beyond. Killing them now would be tremendously enjoyable, but his companion was right – they were too much a part of the mosaic to be removed yet. Bold and reckless as they were, they were important.

        His companion would be able to handle them, he was certain.

**********



In a musky office set off in some ambiguous old building in a discreet part of Irvine two Slayers-Chimneysweep shared a conversation. One spoke more than listened. The other listened more than he spoke. The first Slayer seemed to be a loyal officer to the first. He seemed to be very upset about something. He spoke of rules and ethics. He spoke of common sense and the unthinkable. Then he spoke of how all those things were violated by one of their own.

        Word was spreading. It was spreading fast. Soon it would be uncontainable. The fallen one knew this. He knew he still had time to stop the word from spreading like a plague. The information that was getting out could be the end of him. Yet he let it go.

        The first Slayer spoke further or rage. He spoke of a murderous pair of glowing lavender eyes where no glow should have existed. He showed a fleshy arm to his superior. It was bruised in five places. Each injury was distinctly set where an angry finger on the angry hand of an angry Cajun had held an innocent Britishman; unyielding and brutal.

        The second Slayer asked few questions. The first Slayer was thorough. There was no mistaking the facts and the surrounding events. The first Slayer spoke further of corrupted youth and of obsession. He spoke of vengeance and fanaticism. He spoke of misdirected hostility and manipulation of the innocent. He spoke of questionable character and good interacting with evil.

        Still further he spoke of the fostering of evil and the feeding of the enemy. He spoke of collaboration and wayward sons. He spoke of conspiracy and insanity. And before he was done he spoke of worry and betrayal; of how the finest of warriors may well have turned to the darkness. It was simply unthinkable.

        When the listener finally spoke it was business as usual.

        Dick left Van's office with unsolicited advice on watching his back and staying out of the unthinkable's business until further notice. He was complimented on a job well done. He was given a few days furlough and reminded of the importance of vigilance. If one of the untouchable Slayers could fall, weren't they all at risk?
In the darkness of his office, Van watched outside his window as the sky slowly turned from black into dark blue as dusk approached. He smoked his pipe and recounted in his mind all that had been conveyed. Another loose cannon. What exactly was going on here? Were the two somehow involved in all this? Did Plague-Sever have anything to do with it? Now he'd have to keep an eye on both GAVAL and Nabob who had disappeared weeks ago.

He wished he could handle the situation on his own but he knew that wasn't the way of the Guild. Reaching for a metal plate attached to a set of keys Van tapped a button and made the tiny green display glow before speaking a request.

        "Get me Basal. He should still be in Scotland."

**********

        A contemplative Slayer paced back and forth, his seeing stick tap-tap-tapping before him as he approached a wall, turned around, and paced the other direction with flawless grace. He could have made the walk back and forth easily on basic counting of his steps but holding the cane made him feel better. It gave him something to do with his hand rather than punch a hole through a granite wall.

        "I believe I can quote myself from a few weeks ago, Basal."

        The old Scot watched the shadowy image of a bald man with a cigar and dark glasses pacing back and forth on his monitor. With the ASG leadership scattered around the seven continents they frequently resorted to video-conferencing for important discussions which had to take place between their bi-monthly meetings. Gatral, who represented the Cajun sect was based in New Orleans. Basal, the head Chimneysweep and one of the oldest Slayers, was in Scotland. Others were in Africa, the middle east, Russian, and the Orient. Maintaining balance around the world between good and evil left the Guild scattered and thinly at that, but science kept communication and order for the ASG possible, even at their greatly reduced numbers.

        "I told you to focus on the spectre issue and to focus solely on the spectre issue until the thing is brought to an end. I really don't like having to remind people of what I told them, especially guys like you who've worked with me for so long."

        "I dinnah mean any disrespect, Boss. It's just that the priest who got word from this Jude child seemed really convinced, and ah had a hunch that was too hard to pass oop."


        The Leader paused in a shadow, face up at the ceiling as the blind sometimes did, and chewed on his cigar a moment. "I know better than to question the hunch of a Chimneysweep. Especially one as accomplished as yourself, so you might as well tell me what's going on. What can GAVAL possibly have to do with the Spectre? We're having enough trouble with Nabob on this case without rumors of slayer vigilantism." That term had become used with increased frequency over the last few weeks as rumors of violations of the never-before-questioned Slayer Honor Code circulated around the Guild. "The last thing we need is adding GAVAL to the list of problems the spectre has brought about. You know already that we've lost most of our documentation of spectre phenomenon after that raid on the catacombs."

        "I `ad Dick, one of mah best war vet'rans, pay this GAVAL a visit, and what he reported to our American Intel Chief seems too ludicrous to be true." Basal paused and sipped a tumbler filled with golden brown alcohol, no doubt from an antique bottle of Scotch.

        The Leader shook his head. Basal knew from the first moment Father Courville reported Jude's findings that the Leader wasn't revealing exactly why he wanted them to leave GAVAL alone. He listened with sharp ears for Basal's story.

        "There's no easy way ta say this so I'm ginna just be oot with it. The young Cajun who `ad supposedly lost his Rush ta Plague-Sever is assembling a Spectre Lynch Mob. On his oown. Withoot approval, sanction, or support from the Guild he's been sworn to serve."

        Basal paused to see if the Leader would react, but he just stood there in the dark and smoked, listening and thinking. The Scot took another drink and wiped his stubble with a shirt sleeve. His tolerance for alcohol was so high he could put away a fifth and a half before inebriation could take him. The liver had a remarkable ability to regenerate even for an old Slayer who hadn't Rushed in almost a decade.

"It gets worse. The group of vigilantes this rogue Cajun is teachin' is a group of our oown, young and easily persuaded. GAVAL's done a lot for the Guild and we believe he's usin' `is influence and status of high regard amongst Slayer youth ta sway them to doo his dirty work."

        "I see. So he's trying to convince these kids, even younger than he, to carry out revenge since he's been powerless all these months."

        Basal fidgeted. "No' exactly. That's where it gets much worse. He's also got the support of a coople of our agents and a recruiter agent o' ours who also lost his Rush ta the Spectre."

        "Are we talking about a coup here?"

        "When you hear what ah have ta say next, ya might just know yerself ta be right. To train these kids, some of them only having manifested this year their abilities, he's allied himself with a nightwalker; eater of gore; nosferatu. A vampire is in his charge. He's not only harboring it, but he's feeding it fresh human blood."

        "He's killing people to feed the undead?" Somehow the Leader's voice and tone had not changed despite the shocking details Basal was sharing with him. "If he's willing to go that far, do you think he might have had anything to do with the raid on the Guild archives last month?"

        "To GAVAL's credit, the death isn't technically consequential. He's using the blood of an immortal, one of the CWAL Operatives we fought with at Mojave. As for the raid on the archives, I know for a fact that GAVAL hasn't left California in the last month."

        The Leader seemed to react to the word `immortal' with a bit of amusement. Basal wasn't surprised. It was known by all Slayers of age 60 and up that the Leader was the oldest of the Digger sect of Slayers. Slayers-Ditchdigger had some of the most mysterious gifts of all the seven pureblood sects. Diggers were fewest in number amongst the seven sects of the ASG because of their difficulty in procreating. Only about one in fifty Diggers in recorded history were successful in bearing children. This was an understandable side effect given the abilities granted the Leader's sect. Slayers-Digger had enhanced senses. They were ideal sentinels. The smell of a woman's perfume across a crowded room was obvious to them. They could see the mortar chipping off of a granite pillar in the Holy Father's cathedral from 800 feet. They could hear 25 distinct conversations on a busy street and still discern which cars on said street had clicking valves or under-inflated tires. They were princes of sensation in every way and even blinded Slayers like the Leader were gifted with more powers of perception than any wild animal or supernatural force; plus they dug one hell of a ditch in their day jobs as they dissolved themselves into society to maintain vigilance over evil.



In ancient times the Diggers were called Watchers because of their enormous talents of sensory input. These gifts however paled in comparison to their greatest talent. The healing factor every Slayer shared would confound any medical professional, but it only worked in the presence of undead or the most wicked creatures of darkness. For Slayers-Ditchdigger, however, this healing factor was a constant and much greater way of life. They were for all intents and purposes immortals. Only the taking of or destruction of the heart could silence a Watcher for eternity. Some Watchers were rumored to have been over a century old. Others, who had slipped into seclusion for decades at a time only to re-emerge with new identities were older than anyone but themselves and the Divinity could recall. The most enigmatic of these ancient Digger immortals was the Leader himself. No one knew his name or age and even old timers like Basal didn't dare delve into such secrets. An evil-slayer had more important things to worry about. At least that's what was told to every Slayer when he reached elder status. It was clear to all who knew the Digger secret, that of their immortality, why the Leader's design was never questioned or argued. He was Slayer will.

        Upon hearing of GAVAL's choice to feed a vampire the blood of CWAL canon-fodder the Leader interrupted Basal. "The ethical ramifications are real. He's using an ally's very life blood to keep a vampire alive. I am very disappointed in young GAVAL."

        "I saved the worst part for last, sir."

        Again the Guild-Leader listened in silence as the old Scotsman reviewed the notes Van had faxed to him.

        "GAVAL was supposed to have lost his light to Plague-Sever...one of the first victims...back in New Orleans." Basal peered over his glasses at a computer monitor for a second then turned back to the video camera that relayed his image to the Leader in Rome. "He was stripped of his Rush along with Cabbott, the former Slayer Cajun-turned recruiter who is aiding him. I think Chalice was with them that night."

        The Leader waited patiently for the old Chimneysweep to get up to speed.

        "Well, GAVAL's apparently gotten his Rush back."

        The Leader exhaled a large cloud of smoke as his silhouette in the harsh back light of the dark room became completely still. "Say that again, old friend."

        "GAVAL Rushed right in front of Dick. Almost took the `sweep's arm off. He just lost `is temper right there and almost took Dick's arm off."

        "That's not possible. Was he using magic? A trick to intimidate your intel' operative?"

        "We're sure of it. In fact he wasn't Rushed in the vampire's presence, but he did Rush when Dick ordered him ta New Orleans ta answer to the American Guild Commander."

        "Then that's not a Rush. If he didn't manifest in front of a vampire, it's not a Rush."

"He showed signs of pain at the onset, glowing eyes, albeit a different color, unusual strength...everythin' a Cajun usually shows during the empowerin' of enlightened blood. Plus a nasty temper." Basal looked up and down his notes for a second from within the Leader's monitor then put his glasses down and grabbed his tumbler full of Scotch. "That's it."

The blind man paused for a very long time, then put out his cigar and sat down in a chair as if weary all of a sudden.

        Basal cleared his throat. That last sip of whisky seemed to burn going down more than it usually did. "You'll want ta speak with the boy, then, correct? Should we have him sent here?"

The Leader shook his head. "You've got my attention, that's for sure. Dammit, I didn't want to think GAVAL was capable of this. He seemed so ideal..."

        "You've met the lad?"

        "You could say that. A long, long time ago..." The Leader's thoughts trailed off for a minute before he snapped back to attention. "I wanted GAVAL left alone for several very specific reasons that I'm not inclined to discuss right now. His role in the ASG has been more important than yours or mine..."

        "You mean the time he touched the Divinity?"

        The bald man shook his head as he leaned on his seeing stick.

        "His role in the Mojave with the Slayer Prime?"

        "No...GAVAL's done things for this organization no one would dare to try to fathom or understand, but make no mistake. What he did was paramount. It's only fortunate that his destiny was fulfilled before he decided to seek revenge on the Spectre; before he decided to break every rule in the book. He's always played a special role in this guild but I'm afraid GAVAL Van Helsing has gone too far this time. He's already lived out his destiny and we can no longer be concerned with his well-being if he's gotten involved with dissension."

        Basal had no idea as to what the Leader was referring to but he knew what orders would come next.

        "I want family involved in this. GAVAL will listen to his uncle. Send Gatral up to Irvine. I want an explanation for everything that boy's been up to since the spring, and if Gatral doesn't like those answers I want GAVAL brought here. I trust Gatral's judgement on this. He knows the boy better than most other Slayers. What GAVAL is doing has got to stop and the kids he's influencing need to be set straight immediately. We can deal with the agents involved later."

        Basal nodded and jotted down the Leader's instructions. He was Slayer will and a decision had been made.

        "What if he resists?"

"He won't. He's done some pretty rash things lately but I know in my blood he wouldn't dare resist the Guild. We're family... figuratively and in Gatral's case, literally. He's going to get those kids killed trying to gain personal revenge if we don't stop him." The Leader adjusted his dark glasses and scratched his balled head. "We should double our efforts to kill the Spectre as well. The sooner we kill it the sooner those kids GAVAL is endangering will be safe."

        "Ah was wonderin' if ya might bring that oop," groaned Basal.

        "The other loose canon. The one we assigned to help us research Plague-Sever and its vulnerabilities. Tell me I don't need to worry about that one?" pleaded the Leader.

"Ah have good news and bad news aboot Nabob. The good news is that he recovered the remains of the last known Spectre...from an incident datin' back to the mid 1120's. That's when the last of the Spectres was slain by some of the first Slayers."

        The blind man recalled,"Yes, the Schweitzkung Tomb."

"He shipped skull fragments ta one o' our labs in Wales."

        "Is this where the bad news comes?"

        "Nae...not yet. DNA samples came oop completely negative on any known species, though we were able ta at least discern that the skull fragments had traces of cold-blooded DNA."

        "Reptilian?"

        "Maybe," Basal lit chewed on an unlit pipe as he fumbled through even more folders. His desk had grown into a very intimidating mess over the course of the conversation.

        "What about any traces of...paranormal activities?"

        "Nothin'. No aura of evil, no Rush reaction ta the bones, zero repulsion to holy artifacts. It might as well `ave been the skull of a Sheepdog the way it tested. Except for the reptilian part."

        "Curious, though this is consistent with some of the old barbarian and Celtic texts from the Pre-Guild days on spectre activity. Did you know that Grendal from Beowulf lore is theorized to have been a spectre?"

        "Nae." Basal didn't seem interested in the Leader's suggestion.

        "Well, if the Welsh analysis came up with nothing useful on how to kill the thing, then what's the bad news?"

        "Nabob."

        "What, is he fostering lichs or taking revenge into his own hands over this god-damned Spectre too?" It was the first emotion the Leader had shown since Basal mentioned GAVAL's mysterious Rush.

        "We doon't know, but you might not be far from the truth. Nabob's been AWOL since mid May."

        Smoke rose from the still-burning cigar in the Leader's ash tray as he stared up into the darkness and sighed heavily.



Year of the Spectre Episode 2 - Page 7